Click here if you don’t see subscription options
Health care workers help to settle a patient into a home for the elderly in early May near Portsmouth, England, after moving her from the hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic. (CNS photo/Leon Neal, pool via Reuters)

MANCHESTER, England (CNS) -- The "extremely high death rate" in U.K. care homes for the elderly will go down as the greatest national failure of the coronavirus crisis, a Catholic bioethics institute said.

The Oxford-based Anscombe Bioethics Centre said an "ageist bias" in the attitudes of policymakers toward the needs of care home residents and staff had led them to prioritize the care of younger and healthier patients over the elderly.

This has contributed to the U.K. death rate rising to become the highest in Europe, said Xavier Symons, a bioethicist of the University of Notre Dame, Australia.

"The extremely high death rate in aged care homes will likely be viewed as one of the great failures of health authorities' responses to the COVID-19 crisis," he said in the document published May 23 on the website of the center, which serves the Catholic Church in the U.K. and Ireland.

The U.K. government has so far announced about 37,000 deaths, compared to some 32,000 in Italy, the second-worst affected European country.

But the U.K. Office for National Statistics said that by May 15, the actual figure was already in excess of 47,000, with nearly 12,000 people dying from the virus in care homes.

Symons noted that "care homes around the world have struggled to control the spread of coronavirus." But he said the problem in the U.K. had been exacerbated by the "consistently worse" provision of personal protective equipment for care homes compared to hospitals; a lack of community testing; and by the spreading of the virus "from nursing home to nursing home through workers who are employed at multiple sites."

To free up hospital beds throughout March and April, the Department of Health directed hospitals to discharge elderly patients to care homes even if they were showing symptoms of COVID-19, while advising the homes to isolate those who had tested positive.

But British media reported how in one Liverpool care home, for instance, 12 residents died from COVID-19 after two patients were discharged into their midst from a hospital before they were tested for the virus. Another care home in East Sussex saw 30 residents die after receiving patients from the hospital.

Symons said the ability of nursing homes to provide adequate care was limited because they had neither critical care units nor medical professionals trained to deal complications arising from COVID-19 among elderly patients.

Another consequence of the policies, he said, was a higher rate of deaths among nursing home staff compared to health care workers.

Symons suggested that many unnecessary deaths might have been avoided if politicians had granted equal importance to the lives and needs of older people as they accorded to younger generations.

"The needs of older members of the community should be of primary concern in public discourse, rather than being ignored in the national agenda," he said.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has stretched governments to their limit. But this does not license a suspension of ethics," he added. "On the contrary, history shows that it is in a time of crisis that our concern for society's most vulnerable becomes of greatest importance."

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

City and state/province, or if outside Canada or the U.S., city and country. 
When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

The latest from america

"Together with my brother bishops, we condemn political violence, and we offer our prayers for President Trump, and those who were killed or injured," said Archbishop Broglio, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Many political and faith leaders, even as they prayed for Trump, also asked for prayers for the country as a whole, and particularly America’s polarized political landscape.
Trump’s campaign said the presumptive GOP nominee was doing “fine” after the shooting, which he said pierced the upper part of his right ear.
In an exclusive interview with Gerard O’Connell, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, one of the synod’s most influential figures, discusses the role of women, bishops and all the baptized in a synodal church.
Gerard O’ConnellJuly 12, 2024